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What Is a Keratin Hair Treatment? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

If there was a way to have your blowout last for weeks—maybe even months—chances are high that you’d be game to do it. That’s where a keratin hair treatment comes in. As Charlotte Mensah, hairstylist and founder of Manketti by Charlotte Mensah, describes it, a keratin treatment is a semi-permanent hair straightening solution that smooths strands and adds lustrous shine. But as with anything that sounds too good to be true, there are a few known health concerns that come with it that give many pause.  

So before you book that appointment, you should know exactly what you’re getting with a keratin treatment. The pros, cons, and everything in between, below, Mensah gives us the complete breakdown. 

The Benefits of a Keratin Hair Treatment

The biggest benefit is the smooth and shiny finish. Mensah says that this straightening treatment boosts your hair’s natural shine and helps reduce frizz for anyone looking for a sleeker hairdo. Since it is semi-permanent, it can also cut back your styling time.

Another benefit is its ability to strengthen hair. She explains that a keratin treatment can reduce breakage and the appearance of split ends by temporarily bonding the hair and fortifying it so it doesn’t break off. It can be used on any hair type but is especially beneficial for those with frizzy hair or natural curls and texture looking for a smooth long-lasting blowout. 

The Downsides

While it can strengthen strands, keratin treatments can potentially cause other types of damage to your hair. Mensah explains that the process involves high heat and harsh chemicals which can lead to moisture loss and leave hair dry. These harsh chemicals can also be hazardous to your health overall, but more on that later.

The Process

This is a long and lengthy process. Depending on your hair length, texture, and curl pattern, expect to spend a couple of hours at the salon. Mensah says a keratin treatment generally starts with your stylist washing your hair to clean it from any impurities. Once dried, your stylist will then put the solution all over your hair and let it sit for about 30 to 40 minutes. She explains that your hair will go through an oxidation process and the solution will set into the cuticles to begin the smoothing out process. Then your stylist will rinse hair thoroughly before blow drying it and using a flat iron to activate the solution and have it penetrate deeper into strands.

Post-treatment hair care includes not washing your hair two to three days after getting the treatment. Mensah says this allows the solution to penetrate the hair and give you long-lasting results, which typically lasts anywhere from three to six months. For hair products to use, she recommends using paraben- and sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to nourish hair and properly take care of it. You’ll also want to avoid tying your hair in a ponytail or getting another chemical treatment two to three days afterwards to ensure you maintain the sleek smooth finish. 

Keratin Hair Treatment vs Relaxer

While keratin treatments and relaxers give similar results, they’re two very different processes. Mensah explains that a keratin treatment temporarily smooths your hair before it goes back to its natural texture. Relaxers are the opposite of this, she says, as they permanently break your hair’s bonds to give you a more permanent solution. 

Is it safe? 

The reason why many are hesitant to get this treatment is because of the controversial ingredient formaldehyde. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), formaldehyde is a colorless and flammable gas that is highly toxic. It’s used in the production of fertilizer, paper, plywood, and some resin and can be found as a food preservative or in household products such as medicines and cosmetics. 

In hair straightening treatments such as keratin treatments, formaldehyde is released into the air when the solution is heated. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), those who get these treatments may risk inhaling the classified carcinogen if the salon isn’t properly ventilated. Other side effects include burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, nausea, and skin irritation. With all that to consider, the FDA says to consider a few things before booking that keratin treatment: Read the ingredient list and consult with your stylist. 

Reading the label is especially important if you’re planning on doing an at-home keratin treatment but want something that doesn’t contain this toxic ingredient. If you see formaldehyde, formalin, methylene glycol on an ingredient list, the FDA says that the solution is not formaldehyde-free.

For salon treatments, your stylist should know whether or not the solution they’re using has formaldehyde in it or not. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires products with hazardous chemicals to list those ingredients on a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). If your stylist is unsure of what chemicals are being used in the keratin treatments they’re offering, the FDA says to opt out of it to be safe. 

So if this is something that concerns you, ask your stylist for a formaldehyde-free solution to your keratin hair treatment. They should be able to find you a safer alternative that will give you similar results while keeping your overall health intact. 

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